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No SMS' Don't even mention it

London, Dec. 20: The mobile phone is indispensable to teenagers and text messaging is an integral part of how they express and define themselves, a social study says.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they could not bear to be without their phone.

Texting has had a complex effect, allowing them to avoid face-to-face contact and to communicate in ways they would not have dared before.

The study found that, for most, texting was the preferred means of flirtation and arranging dates. A third of boys and nearly a quarter of girls saw nothing wrong in ending a relationship by text.

Helen Haste, professor of psychology at the University of Bath and the leading author of the report, said: 'Texting is replacing speech for much communication among young people. It is immediate, accessible, private and gives them unprecedented control over how they communicate with friends and family.

'It is not just about communicating but displaying to those around you that you are popular, successful and have a large social network.'

Mori spoke to 725 people aged 11 to 21 for the report, to be published in full next month by the Nestl' Social Research Programme. It found that 687 had mobiles: 97 per cent of the females and 92 per cent of the males.

More than three-quarters, 77 per cent, agreed with the statement: 'I could not bear to be without my phone.'

Keeping your mobile attached to your belt is seen as a fashion faux pas, three-quarters saying they would never do such a thing. Two-thirds answer their mobiles when in public and only 18 per cent said they deliberately talked quietly on the phone in public places.

Zoe Lazarus, a trend analyst at the Crystal consultancy, part of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather, said: 'One of the most important concerns for teenagers is to be constantly contactable and constantly connected to the action.'

Text messaging continues to increase in popularity, with Britain's 52 million mobile users sending 2.3 billion in October, up by 500 million on a year earlier. It plays a key part in the social lives of young people. Some 89 per cent, of 11- to 21-year-old mobile users text at least once a day and 54 per cent at least five times a day.

Four out of 10 prefer texts to arrange first dates: 30 per cent opt for a mobile call.

Haste said: 'Perhaps surprisingly, males are keener on making calls when it comes to affairs of the heart. Females prefer to text.

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